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Third Parties and Political Presumption

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I wonder if people can read. I don’t mean read the words on a page. I mean read to understand. Last week’s articles on third parties are a case in point. Two of the articles, one published by me and the other by Eric Rauch, are critical of those pushing the third-party option. These two articles were designed to get Christians to deal with political realities as they now exist. Let me be clear: As things now exist, a vote for a third-party candidate won’t change anything. It might make third-party advocates feel good, but we are still going to get either Obama-Biden or McCain-Palin. Third-party voters will say that since they didn’t vote for either one, they won’t be to blame for what happens. We’ll all be to blame, because we have not done what needed to be done a long time ago. Today’s third-party candidates are an attempt to avoid a much larger issue: the requirement of hard work!

My article made two points: (1) The third-party candidates running in 2008 have no business running, and (2) most third-party advocates are not willing to do what is necessary to affect significant political change in our nation. I want to use this article to deal with the first point. Tomorrow I’ll tackle point two.

The majority of the third-party candidates have not won a single election. You can check out my article for evidence of this claim. Most of those critical of my article did not comment on these facts. In 1 Timothy 3:4­–5 we read that rulers being considered to rule in the church must have had some success ruling elsewhere. This principle surely applies to politics, especially for someone as powerful as the president. Please show me that a candidate can do the job beside. Telling me he can do it is not enough. James tells us that “faith without works is dead” (2:14–26). Is it asking too much from a candidate who is seeking to be president of the United States to have had some political experience? I don’t think so. It amazes me that some Christians throw their own experience and reason out the window when assessing an issue like politics. Experience and reason are also gifts from God, and He expects us to use them. Would you get in an airplane with a pilot who never had flown a plane? What if he was a righteous Christian and scored well on his pilot’s test? Sorry. I’m not getting on board.

We must be wary of the claim made by some that a good number of the third-party candidates are “righteous.” They may be, but they are still sinners. David was God’s choice to be king, and David turned out to be an adulterer and an accomplice to murder. There are no political messiahs. “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation” (Ps. 146:3). This even includes third-party candidates. While it’s not said, there is an underlying current of political messiahship among many third-party advocates. It strikes me a little odd that the third-party candidates being suggested are running for president. This is contrary to the biblical model of bottom-upism rather than top-downism. I believe that more people would be inclined to vote for a third-party candidate who was running as a state senator. Why won’t this present crop of third- party candidates do this? Are they afraid of losing? It’s understandable to everyone that someone running for president has no chance of winning, but it’s harder to explain if he can’t win in his own neighborhood.

When I was in seminary, many bright young men would supply small church pulpits on Sundays. They knew their theology. They preached exacting sermons, but they did not know how to minister. They thought that being a minister meant “preaching the truth by the book.” The people needed a healthy dose of this and a healthy dose of that. It didn’t take long before these guys were staying home on Sundays and sitting in the pew of a local church. It’s not that these young men were wrong doctrinally. They were wrong governmentally. They did not understand that there is more to the church than right doctrine.

I spent 15 months as a student intern at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1975–76 as partial fulfillment of my studies at Reformed Theological Seminary. G. Aiken Taylor was the senior pastor as well as the editor of the Presbyterian Journal. His big complaint was that many young seminary graduates took churches and believed that their main duty was to preach. I learned quickly that this was not the case, and I was determined to make sure that I understood this principle fully. An internship was generally two three-month periods during the summer. I spent an extra year for the governmental experience. Those 15 months, and three months the next year, taught me about church government. I had more experience than most graduates, but I never got ordained because my experience during those 18 months showed me that being a minister was not my calling. Should we require less of someone who is in the civil realm?

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is looking for a new pastor. Do you think the pulpit committee is going to call someone who has had no experience even though he’s right on all the doctrinal points and can pass his presbytery exams? I don’t think so.

The apostle Paul certainly had the credentials. He met Jesus on the Damascus Road in a personal encounter like no other. In today’s churches, Paul would immediately be put on the preaching circuit. Paul waited three years after his conversion before he met Peter (Gal. 1:18). He then spent time in the “regions of Syria and Cilicia” (1:21). It was fourteen years before he went back to Jerusalem (2:1). Take note of this next comment by Paul: “And it was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain” (2:2). Notice the complete lack of presumption, even after his Damascus Road experience and the “revelation” he had received. He needed real-life confirmation. Paul followed his own later admonition to Timothy of not choosing a “new convert” (1 Tim. 3:6) for leadership positions.

My first point is a simple one: The third-party candidates who are running in 2008 have no business running no matter how poor our choices are.

If you are going to comment on this article, please stay on topic.

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